Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Stars: voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Jamie Chung, T J Miller, Damon Wayans jr, Genesis Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph.
The family friendly films being released over Christmas this year range in quality from the excellent Paddington, through to the rather bland and disappointing Penguins of Madagascar. The Disney produced action comedy Big Hero 6 falls somewhere in between. Like The Incredibles before it, Big Hero 6 is an animated superhero movie that is suitable for all ages. It offers plenty of visual action for younger audiences, but it also offers enough to satisfy older audiences who have been raised on comic books and a diet of unusual superheroes.
A collaboration between Disney and Marvel, Big Hero 6 is an animated film based on the little known Marvel comic of the same name created by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T Seagle, of Ben 10 fame. Big Hero 6 is the story of the unusual bond of friendship that develops between a young boy and an inflatable personal health care robot named Baymax, and it mixes the usual tropes of the superhero genre with manga style animation. It explores many of the tropes of the coming of age genre as well as universal themes of friendship, teamwork, courage, grief, loss, and revenge.
Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter, from Supah Ninjas, etc) is something of a teenaged robotics prodigy who has an interest in pitting his robots against other robots in back alley fights to earn some money rather than attending school. But under the tutelage of his older brother Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney) he gets a chance to win a scholarship to the same institute of technology (or “nerd school” as he calls it) that Tadashi attends. He creates a fabulous form of mind-controlled nanotechnology that offers plenty of potential, and impresses Callaghan (voiced by James Cromwell) the head of the institute.
Alistair Krei (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a billionaire developer, offers to buy the technology off Hiro but he refuses. Shortly afterwards, the institute is engulfed by an explosion and a fire that kills Tadashi and his mentor Callaghan and destroys his nanobots. Following the explosion, a mysterious ninja warrior in a kabuki mask appears. It seems he is able to control the nanotechnology, and he is seeking revenge on the city. It is up to Hiro to try and thwart his sinister plans for the city. With a bit of tinkering he transforms the gentle Baymax into a karate-chopping crime fighter.
Hiro enlists the help of his friends, including adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago (voiced by Jamie Chung), neatnik Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr.), chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (voiced by Genesis Rodriguez) and awestruck fanboy Fred (voiced by T J Miller) to solve the mystery. Hiro transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes collectively known as Big Hero 6. Rather than a bunch of kids with special superpowers though, they are basically a racially diverse mix of ordinary teens who use their knowledge and skills to battle the villain. They are also a little underdeveloped as characters.
There is plenty of action as Hiro and his friends try to track down the mysterious supervillain and uncover the conspiracy that killed his brother. But there are also generous doses of slapstick humour and witty in-jokes that will appeal to older audiences.
The film has been directed by Don Hall (a veteran of Disney animated films having written Tarzan and Meet The Robinsons, etc) and Chris Williams (Bolt, etc), who bring plenty of energy and imagination to the material. But despite some quite stunning action sequences early on, the climax becomes quite messy and formulaic as it features nothing less than massive destruction on a widescale, much like the climax of live action blockbusters like Man Of Steel and its ilk. And, like many in the audience, I have grown tired of this noisy and wanton destruction. And the villain of the piece is a disappointingly generic misunderstood villain.
The film is visually spectacular, and the CGI animation is quite detailed; you can see the influence of animation supremo John Lasseter here. The animation retains the mix of western and Japanese influences of the source material, from the look and names of the characters through to the setting of San Fransokyo, a wonderful creation that combines elements of both San Francisco and Tokyo.
There is a great vocal cast to bring the characters to life. Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit) is also a great creation – here he is depicted as a cool, gentle-natured robot with a warmth and personality to match, despite the fact that he looks a bit like a pint-sized marshmallow figurine.
And Marvel comics supremo Stan Lee, who must have it written into his contract that he has to appear in all films featuring Marvel characters, is more animated here than he has ever been!
Big Hero 6 is another winner for Disney’s animation department, which seems to be undergoing something of a creative renaissance of late with hits like Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph to its credit. This surprisingly enjoyable and exciting superhero movie has plenty of heart, and it should prove a hit with families over the holidays. Baymax and Hiro are also such likeable heroes that it would not be surprising to see these characters get their own range of action figurines and toys. And they will undoubtedly appear again in a sequel.